HC Deb 06 March 1833 vol 16 cc324-31

The House went into a Committee of Supply.

Lord Althorp

said, that the first Resolution which he had to propose to the Committee was one with respect to the Sugar Duties, and he did not feel that it would be necessary for him to go into any detailed arguments upon that question. As he was about to propose a Resolution which went to continue this tax upon sugar, he begged to observe, that he proposed it upon the ground upon which all taxes must depend—namely, that it was required for the services of the State. He did not think that the state of the revenue was such, taking into account, too, the other questions of a fiscal nature that were likely to come under the consideration of the House, as to enable him to propose such a reduction in the duty on sugar as would be calculated to give any substantial relief either to the West-India colonies, or to the people of this country. Aware as he was of the distressed condition of the West-India proprietors, he should have been extremely glad if he could, consistently with his duty, propose a large reduction of the sugar duties. A small reduction of the duty would be productive of no advantage whatever to them, as unless the duty was so far reduced as to reduce the cost of sugar all over the world, or to give them, in effect, the monopoly of the market in this country, a reduction of the duty, without doing them any good would only cause a diminution in the revenue of the country. Under these circumstances, he begged leave to move the following Resolution:—"That it is the opinion of the Committee, that a sum of money granted towards raising the several duties on sugar imposed by the Act of the first year of the reign of his present Majesty should be further continued." Although the Resolution did not state the term for which the duties were to be continued, it was his intention to propose their continuance for one year.

Mr. Hume

remarked, that this was the first occasion that the Reformed Parliament had to impose taxes. He was much surprised, therefore, that there was not a better attendance. He was sorry and surprised that the hon. member for Oldham was not there. He was, doubtless, not aware of it, or he would have been present. There were 314 new Members sent to that House, but when he looked round him he did not see half that number in the House, and the larger portion of those present were old Members. This did not say much for the industry and attention of the new Members; but he hoped that, on a future occasion, they would have a better attendance. He was sorry the old system of placing upon East-India sugar a duty of 10s. per cwt. more than upon West-India sugar, was to be kept up. He hoped the noble Lord would consent to an equalization of the duties. It would be a great benefit to our oriental possessions, by enabling them to pay for British manufactures, whilst it would not injure the West-India planters, as it was impossible, considering the distance, to compete with them; and it would be destroying the appearance of a monopoly which, in fact, was none. He hoped the noble Lord would take this into consideration; and he would make a motion to this effect on bringing up the Report. As to the smallness of any reduction which the noble Lord might be able to make, let him remember that, to a poor man, even a trifle was of consequence.

Mr. Woolrych Whitmore

supported the proposition for equalizing the duties, as highly beneficial to both countries; and also condemned the system of utter prohibition of foreign sugar, which he thought might be allowed to come in to be refined for the foreign market, as contrary to the principles of free trade.

Lord Althorp

could not agree with his hon. friend the member for Wolverhampton, who had just spoken, as to the course proposed to be adopted with respect to the sugar duties. If ever there was a period when that question became a question of difficulty and delicacy, it was the present, when Parliament was about to enter into an inquiry as to the renewal of the charter of the East-India Company, and when, at the same time, it was contemplated to make considerable alterations in the mode of regulating affairs in the West-Indies. At such a time as the present it would be exceedingly improper to reduce the duty on East-India sugar, no matter what temporary relief it might afford to individual parties. With regard to the reduction of the duty on sugar, as a measure of relief to the labouring classes, he agreed that it was desirable to reduce them on that account; but it was necessary to pay proportionate attention to all classes of his Majesty's subjects, and it became a question whether the reduction of some other tax would not be still more beneficial to the labouring classes themselves.

Mr. Goulburn

wished to call the attention of the House to the novel circumstance of the House being called upon to vote supplies to his Majesty in a Committee of Ways and Means, without having laid before them the manner in which these supplies were to be expended—[hear]. He was the more anxious to touch upon this subject, as they had been told a Reformed Parliament (and this was the first) would do wonders. In the time of former Parliaments, it was usual for the objects to which the taxes were to be applied, to be stated before the taxes were voted; but it was reserved for a Reformed Parliament to see the taxes voted first, and their objects—whether for the army, navy, or other service—left to be determined afterwards. The usual course being so different from the present, he hoped the noble Lord would excuse his few observations. The noble Lord ought, before proposing a vote for a tax, to have made a statement of the burthens under which the country already laboured. He was perfectly aware that any large reduction of taxation was inconsistent with justice. It was of great importance that the West-India interest should be immediately settled on a sure basis; and it was certainly true, that the removal of these taxes would be a benefit to the labouring classes. While they relieved the poorer classes, it was right that they should give some relief to a class who, though not belonging to what were called the poorer classes, were yet amongst the poorest who lived under his Majesty's sway.

Lord Althorp

wished merely to answer the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn). The first objection which he made to the vote was merely one of form. The Navy Estimates had already been presented; but there was no vacant day for taking them into consideration. The postponement of the alteration of the Sugar Duties till the 5th of April, would throw it one day beyond the expiration of the financial year. It was impossible for him to state what he could reduce, until he could toll what was required for the support of the Government, and what would be the state of the revenue. It was the duty of Government to pay every attention to the interests of the lower classes, but not so as to exclude other classes.

Mr. Robinson

observed, that though he and other Gentlemen on the same side were not inclined to believe that a great reduction of taxation could be made, yet many besides himself would be disposed to call upon the noble Lord for information as to the practicability of taking off the taxes which pressed upon the poorer classes, and commuting them for others, which would not be liable to the same objections.

Mr. Warburton

observed, that, to say the least, it was very inconvenient to vote 4,000,000l. without having an estimate of the expenses of the year. He was sorry to find, that the hon. member for Manchester (Mr. Poulett Thomson), who ought to be best able to answer the inquiries which he was about to make, was not in his place; but, in his absence, he would ask the noble Lord (Lord Althorp), whether the experiments which had been instituted for the purpose of ascertaining the qualities of sugar, had made such progress as to enable the experimenters to make such a scale as would be necessary for an object which he considered extremely desirable, namely, for imposing a graduated duty in proportion to the quality of sugars?

Lord Althorp

replied, that the experiments had not been carried so far as to enable them to make such a scale. The experiments, however, had proved that the calculations on which the Excise had formerly proceeded were erroneous; but the amount of the error had not yet been determined. It certainly had been proved that it was considerable.

Mr. John Stewart

said, that the House, he was sure, could not but observe, that the persons interested in colonial affairs, and immediately connected with the colonies, had purposely abstained from opposing, or in any way embarrassing, his Majesty's Ministers upon the present question—feeling, as they did, that it was a matter of the utmost importance that the still greater question, and that which more largely affected the colonies, ought now once and for all to be settled; and, therefore, he, and all connected with the colonies, were most anxious that nothing whatever should stand in the way of that arrangement. As to the observations of the hon. member for Middlesex, and his advocacy of the interest of our East-Indian possessions, he must be allowed to say, that they were as inconsistent with the principles of sound policy, as with the advantage of that dependency of the British Empire. He thought that neither the West-Indian nor the East-Indian interest would thank the hon. member for Middlesex for his interference with the present business. His proceeding upon the present occasion was another symptom of the ambition, more troublesome than successful, which had distinguished the hon. Member during the present Session.

Mr. Hume

could not refrain from deprecating the practice of making bargains with the Government on questions of that nature, or of any kind. That which was right should be done, without improperly agreeing to vote away any portion of the public money, in order to attain that which should be attained without any such sacrifice. As to what had been said respecting his support of one party, or the other, he hoped he should gain credit with the House when he stated, that he never got up there for the purpose of supporting the exclusive interests of any portion of the Empire, and therefore, he desired thanks as little as he expected them. There had been, for centuries in this country, too much talk about maintaining interests, and too little respecting the advantage of the public. His object was the public good; he therefore cared little for particular interests, and did not want their thanks. He defied any one to show that either his support or his opposition had ever been factious. He defied any to fix upon him any party motive.

Captain Dundas

, as one of the young Members, hoped that it would not go abroad that, because one of the members for Oldham was absent, that therefore any considerable portion of the new Members were unattentive to the duty they owed their constituents.

Mr. Faithful

, who observed that be was another of the young Members, expressed an earnest desire to get rid of the present Motion in any unobjectionable manner. He was, he confessed, most anxious to set it aside for the present, but he had not sufficient experience to know how that object could be effected according to the forms of the House. If the right hon. Member below him, who possessed more experience than he could boast of, would only have the goodness to inform him of the proper mode of proceeding, he should most readily adopt it. The noble Lord had told them that, in the present Session, they must not expect any considerable relief from the pressure of taxation—or, indeed, any relief at all [No]. He acknowledged he was rejoiced to receive that contradiction; and he sincerely hoped, that the fond expectations of the country would be realised. The people expected relief; and if those expectations were disappointed, he would take upon himself to say, that the Ministry would lose the confidence of the nation—that the great body of the people would be driven to desperation—and that thence some convulsive movement must of necessity arise.

Mr. Ruthven

thought, that they ought not to proceed with so important a Motion at so late an hour. He moved as an Amendment, that the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Mr. Fielden

said, that the House was now called upon to vote 4,000,000l. of taxes, and that was a question not to be lightly dealt with. In the district with which he was more immediately connected there were 20,000 persons, out of a population of 200,000, who had only 2¼d. a-day each to provide food and clothing and the other necessaries of life; and of that number 2,200 were out of employ. How wretchedly insufficient, then, must the remuneration for labour be! and what a slate of things was that, which brought a labouring population to so low an ebb! and how necessary, then, was it that the Representatives of the people should watch with a jealous eye every new vote of taxation! Those unhappy beings worked hard from Monday morning till Saturday night, and their whole remuneration consisted of 2¼d. per day each. It was perfectly true, that they were not consumers of sugar. No, truly; their diet consisted of nothing more than potatoes for dinner, and oatmeal porridge morning and evening. He stood there as their Representative, and demanded that their grievances should be redressed. He understood that some of his statements had been denied, but he challenged any one to bring proof that the facts he stated were incorrect. The state of the country was most alarming and most revolting to the feelings of humanity; and he, therefore, could not give his consent to any supply, until he had previously obtained a promise from the Government that something effectual should be done for the redress of grievances.

Mr. Strickland

adverted to some letters which had been published in the newspapers, denying the statements of the hon. member for Oldham; it was, he believed, by no means the fact that such great misery prevailed in the manufacturing districts as had been represented; for the employment, at the present moment, was pretty general, though the wages were low. That was a state of things, which, in his judgment, was by no means satisfactorily accounted for; and he did sincerely hope that the hon. member for Oldham would bring forward some Motion to the House upon that subject.

Mr. Fielden

declined to enter then into any controversies with anonymous writers, who produced no authority for their assertions.

Mr. Potter

was most anxious to see the duties removed from soap.

Mr. Rice

observed, that confessedly the sugar duties did not affect the class whose distresses had that night been made the subject of complaint; and why should the hon. Members who urged the condition of that class as matter of the highest importance, object to a tax which did not press upon those whose case they thought the hardest? The present was not a conclusive Motion; it was only a vote on which a bill was to be subsequently grounded.

Mr. George Young

while he was anxious that taxation should be remitted as far as was practicable, expressed his confidence that his Majesty's present Government would do all in their power for that purpose. Conceiving, also, that the duty under consideration was not one of those which could be remitted, be saw no reason for voting that the Chairman should leave the Chair.

Mr. Baldwin

said, he had been instructed by his constituents to oppose all supplies, and he should not feel it to be his duty to vote one shilling of supply to his Majesty's Ministers for the purpose of enforcing military law in Ireland.

A Member

felt it his duty to declare that the population ten miles round Manchester were, at the present moment, as comfortable as they had been during any period within the last twelve or fourteen years.

Mr. Guest

said, that the population in the neighbourhood of Manchester had never been so much distressed as within the last two years; but he was happy to add, that their condition was at present improving.

The Committee divided on the Amendment—Ayes 8; Noes 86—Majority 78.

The Resolution agreed to; as were also the remaining Resolutions.

The House resumed.

List of the AYES.
Baldwin, H. O'Connor, F.
Barry, S. Ruthven, E.
Faithful, G. Vigors, N.
Fielden, J. TELLER.
Hume, J. Ruthven, E. S.